12 December 2018

Let It Be According to the Word-Made-Flesh

The Lord now comes to St. Mary by and with and through the Word of His messenger, Gabriel, the same Archangel who previously brought the announcement to St. Zacharias that his barren old wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and bear a son, who would go before the face of the Lord.  With this Word to St. Mary, it is more than a message conveyed, and more then a messenger promised. It is the Lord Himself who is spoken into the Blessed Virgin’s ears, and so also into her womb.

The Archangel Gabriel greets her with a standard liturgical greeting, “The Lord be with you,” as you are accustomed to hearing in the Liturgy week after week.  It is far more than politeness or wishful thinking.  It is indeed a Word of grace that declares to her the divine Truth of the matter.  The Lord is with her, and not for her benefit only, but for the sake of the salvation of the world.

It is the One who is the Word of God from all eternity who is here conceived as true Man in her womb, flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood.  Who He is, and what He has come to do, is made known in the Name that is given and revealed for the Son that St. Mary shall bear in due time.  His Name shall be called “Jesus,” because He is Yahweh who comes to save His people from their sins.

He does not come to take away all your problems in this world.  He does not come to win elections or establish an earthly kingdom.  He does not fill up your coffers with gold or silver.  He does not prevent you from ever getting sick and tired, nor make your life more interesting.  He does not free you from the needs of the body, nor from the difficulties and blessings of your relationships.

He comes to save you from your sins, to make Atonement for you and forgive you, to raise you up from death to eternal life, and to seat you with Himself in the presence of His God and Father.

He comes to do the very thing that you have asked of Him in the evening hymn tonight.  He comes to abide with you, not only with His Word — though He does so by His Word — but also with His own Body of human flesh and blood.  He comes to abide with you as He did with St. Mary.

He does it by His Word and Holy Spirit, as He has done all things from the beginning of creation by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He speaks, and it is so.  Such is the power of God.  And such is the grace of God, who does all things in holy love, solely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

So it is by grace alone that He comes to St. Mary, in order to do great and marvelous things for her, and to exercise His mighty deeds for the redemption of all people and the perfection of creation.  He does it from the inside-out, by His own Incarnation, His own becoming flesh, becoming a part of His own creation.  By His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin, God and Man are united in His Person, so that He might be the Savior of mankind, all of Adam’s sons and daughters.  To that end, He receives a body for Himself, that He might sacrifice His Body and shed His Blood.

Now, He comes to St. Mary and abides with her in a way that is surely unique and singular in the entire history of the world.  No one else will ever conceive and bear the Son of God.  No other woman is given the profound privilege and responsibility of becoming the Mother of God.

Even so, that which He does with her alone, He does for the benefit and salvation of everyone else.  He takes her flesh and blood to be His own, in order to become a human being like yourself, like you in every way, save only without any sins of His own.  But He becomes like you in order to bear all your sins in His Body to the Cross, and so that you might be united to Him in body and soul, and become like Him by grace through faith in His Gospel, and enter with Him into heaven.

Already in these events at hand, in the Annunciation to St. Mary, and in her visit to St. Elizabeth, there is a significant shift in the way that God is with His people and deals with them.  Recall that Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in the Temple, in the Holy Place, as that man of God was going about his priestly duties.  It was an affirmation of all that God had spoken and established through Moses in the Old Testament, the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sacrifices, and the Incense Offering.

But in this case, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, this young virgin girl, likely a young teen, in Nazareth of all places.  There are no crowds of people awaiting her outside, wondering what news she may have.  Everything that God has ever promised is beginning to find its fulfillment in the Word that is spoken to her, but no one even knows or realizes it, nor could anyone have known it by looking at her.  She goes quickly and quietly to visit Elizabeth, to whom the angel has directed her in confirmation of God’s Word and promise.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, Elizabeth does know and believe what is going on.  But it is otherwise a great Mystery, hidden in obscurity.

What is happening in all of these events is a transition from the Old Testament to the New, from the Liturgy of the Old Testament to the new Liturgy that belongs to the Word and Works and Flesh of Christ Jesus, the Fruit of St. Mary’s womb.  In bearing Him within her body, she has become a new Tabernacle, a new Ark of the Covenant.  She is the vessel and the vehicle by which God the Lord, Yahweh Sabaoth, comes to dwell in the midst of His people with grace, mercy, and peace.

When Gabriel declares to St. Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the Power of the Most High shall overshadow you,” he is using the language of the Old Testament for the Cloud of God’s Glory, the tangible and visible presence of God with His people, which came upon the Tabernacle and filled the Holy of Holies.  Now the Lord overshadows St. Mary and fills her womb.

Here is something brand new.  Henceforth the Lord will abide among His people in the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And as He entered into His own Creation by the way and means of her body, so does He now continue to abide on earth within His holy Christian Church by the ways and means of His Gospel Ministry, by the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments.  It is within His Body and Bride, the Church, that the Glory of the Lord resides here with you and all His people, unto life and salvation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in heaven; and that you abide with Him.

But all of this Glory of God in Christ Jesus is hidden in humility and weakness.  It is altogether different than the ways of the world and the ways of your own flesh, which are always seeking after fame and fortune and striving to look good.  The Body and Bride of Christ are not that way in this life on earth.  For here the Church abides with her Lord under the Cross in the midst of sin and death, her true glory hidden from the eyes of men, just as Christ Jesus, the almighty and eternal Son of God, and St. John the Baptist were hidden from sight in the wombs of their Mothers.

No one looking at these two women could ever know or even guess what is going on with them or what the Boys they bear will be.  Such Mysteries are revealed and believed only by the Word and Spirit of the Lord, in ways that no one could ever imagine.  So it is for the Church on earth.  And so it is for you who live by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, St. Mary’s Son.

Consider those things that Gabriel speaks concerning this Lord Jesus, that He will be the Son of the Most High, that He will receive the Throne of His father David, that He will reign over the House of Jacob, and that His Kingdom will have no end.  Such great promises are as remarkable in their own right as the announcement that the Virgin will conceive and bear a Son.  First of all because the royal reign of David and his sons is long gone.  Herod, a half-Jew, sits on the throne of Israel, but he is puppet of Rome who serves at the whim of Caesar.

How, then, shall this Son of David, Jesus Christ, ascend the throne of His father David, and how shall He reign over His Kingdom forever?  What sort of throne and kingdom shall that even be?  Well, His Kingdom is not of this world, that is for sure.  For He reigns in divine Glory from the Throne of His Cross, and His Kingdom is hidden here on earth in the Church of His Holy Gospel.  Although He has been crucified, dead, and buried, He lives and reigns forever in His Resurrection from the dead — which neither the world nor your flesh can see or feel or experience in this life.  It is known and believed only by the revelation of the Word of God, and only by His Holy Spirit.

In all of these things, St. Mary is not only a wonderful vessel of God’s grace, becoming the Mother of God the Son, but she is also a beautiful Icon of the Church and a marvelous example of faith.  For when she hears and receives the Word of the Lord from Gabriel, she believes it, she trusts it. She embraces it in faith, and she prays that it would be true for her as God the Lord has spoken.  “Let it be to me according to Thy Word,” she says. “Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Her initial question sounds on the surface a bit like the question of Zacharias, but it is altogether different.  Zacharias responded to Gabriel, “How will I know that what you have said is true?  And how will I know for certain that it will happen?”  That is a question of doubt.  But Mary’s question is a question of faith, which seeks only the knowledge of the Word of God.  “How will this be?”  She already confesses that it will be.  She asks only for guidance as to how it will come about.

Now, if you think about the answer that Gabriel gives her, that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and that the Power of the Most High will overshadow her, a skeptical person might say, “Well, he hasn’t really answered the question!”  But Mary simply says, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.”

The righteousness and holiness of God are not something you perform and accomplish for yourself, but which you receive and suffer.  It is only when His Word has had its way with you, that you begin to live by faith and in love according to it.  So it is with St. Mary.  She does not achieve this work of God.  She first of all receives it and believes it, and then she submits to live accordingly.

So it is that you are called to live by faith in the Word that God the Lord declares to you.  For He is with you in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, even as the Son and Holy Spirit ever live to pray and intercede for you before the Father in heaven.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son, speaks to you in the reading and preaching of the Holy Scriptures.  He feeds you with His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.  And He blesses you with His own Name, the very Name of God, as in your Holy Baptism, so also in His Word of Holy Absolution.

The Lord is with you in these Means of Grace, in the Ministry of His Gospel.  Although it is true that none of you will become the Mother of God, none of you will conceive and bear the Son of God in your womb, yet, in your Baptism you have been conceived and born again of water, Word, and Spirit, and united with Christ Jesus in body and soul.  In Holy Absolution He says to you, as to St. Mary, “Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God.”  He is not here to punish but to save, to do great things for you, to forgive you all your sins, and to reign over you in love forever.

In the Holy Communion He gives you to eat and to drink His own Body and His Blood.  And is this not a sacred intimacy exceeding even that of holy marriage or the bearing of a child?  For in this case the Lord, God Himself, joins Himself to you in human flesh and blood like your own.  He feeds you with Himself, that He should abide in you, and you in Him, as one flesh and blood.

Bear that in mind, and ponder that in your heart, as you go from the Lord’s House, week after week throughout the year, to your home and family, to your job or classroom, and to all your callings and stations in life, whatever they may be.  The Lord is with you.  He is here with you in His Church by the Ministry of His Word and Holy Spirit, and so does He also go with you from this place to all those places where He has positioned you on earth, in all those relationships He has given you.

Live, therefore, according to His Word.  Pray and confess what He has spoken to you, that you are His beloved, that He loves you dearly, that He saves you by His grace, that His Kingdom has no end, and that you belong to His Kingdom by your Baptism into Christ Jesus, which shall not be taken from you.  Pray and confess that Word of the Lord in the face of sin and death, in the face of doubt and fear, and in the face of all the devil’s temptations.

Let is be for you, at all times and in all places, according to the Word and promises of God in Christ Jesus.  Blessed are you who believe His Word, for there will surely be a fulfillment of all that God has spoken to you.  All of His promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus, your Savior.

Rejoice and be glad in His favor.  The Lord is with you.  And so shall He be unto life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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